With budget approved, Millinocket schools must cut $261,000

Posted Aug. 29, 2013, at 4:22 p.m.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — School leaders might have to negotiate a cut of $202,000 from the teacher’s union and contractors to conform to the $6.3 million budget voters approved earlier this month, officials said Thursday.

The Millinocket School Committee will meet at Stearns Junior-Senior High School on Thursday, Sept. 5, to discuss the budget and the cuts, Superintendent Kenneth Smith said.

Board members’ first task will be to accept Smith’s list of $261,000 in proposed cuts or find other options, such as the elimination of programs, he said.

Board members who voted on the list during a meeting on Tuesday deadlocked 2-2. Board member Donald Dow Jr. was absent, Smith said.

“They could go in an entirely different direction. The whole thing is they have to come up with $261,000,” Smith said. “Their options are somewhat limited.”

On Aug. 20, voters accepted the school budget by a 640-547 margin. It was the third validation vote this year and included a Town Council mandated cut. Under the Town Charter, councilors control the budget, but the school board delegates where money is spent in the school system.

The cutting, councilors have said, is an integral part of their effort to keep taxes at 29.5 mills, up from the 26.4 mill rate in the budget that lapsed June 30. The school board had already cut the budget $111,000, leaving the proposal about $63,000 less than previous years.

As has happened for most of the last decade, the council and school board fought hard over cuts that were driven by declining state and town revenues, town population and local economy.

Smith said that it has left the school committee with little left to cut. He proposed eliminating $57,000 in salary and wage increases, $100,000 in retired employee health care benefits and reducing transportation needs by $30,000.

All would require contract renegotiations with the Teacher’s Association or and Bragdon Bus Service Inc., Smith said.

“I have met with the [teacher’s] association to ensure that they are at least willing to sit down, and they are,” Smith said Thursday. “They have been very cooperative. They may have some ideas.”

“If you have a good relationship,” he added, “you can get something done.”

Another $20,000 could be cut from stipend positions; $15,000 from cuts to supplies and contract modifications; and the art teacher’s post pays $39,000, according to Smith’s proposal.

Committee Chairman Kevin Gregory said he probably would have little to say until Thursday.

Millinocket will begin the school year next week with 544 students, 13 more than last year. While it doesn’t begin to redress the region’s overall school population decline, the increase is a good sign, Smith said.

Of the 544 students, 268 attend the junior and senior high school, with 276 at Granite Street School, he said. Seven are international students paying tuition, and that number equals the amount of international students the school ended the 2012-13 school year with, Smith said.

Growth in the international program, committee members have said, is vital to the school system’s future. International program revenues are expected to keep the schools going this year.

Another 15 students are out-of-towners that come to Millinocket through superintendent’s agreements, he said.

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